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A Modern NFL Fairy Tale* (01/25/2006)
By Patrick Marek
The atmosphere at the press conference was electric. This was Daunte Culpepper's first public appearance since his devastating, season ending knee injury. Adding to the drama were the recent comments made by Culpepper's agent, Mason Ashe, indicating that the quarterback planned to negotiate a raise in his contract. Culpepper looked visibly agitated as he limped to the podium and grabbed the microphone in both hands.

"First of all, I want everyone to know that my agent wasn't speaking for me when he made that statement about a salary increase. As a matter of fact, I'm going to have a conversation with him right after this news conference about whether he'll ever be speaking for me again.The truth of the matter is, when I was meeting with the Vikings last week, I was actually trying to give them some of their money back.

"After the preseason I was riding high. I had just completed a Pro Bowl year, and we were clicking on all cylinders. I was thinking two things...Super Bowl, and it's time to get paid. I didn't feel comfortable when my agent talked me into holding out that day of training camp, but it sure worked like a charm. Mr. Wilf met with me personally and opened up the vault. An 8 million dollar increase!

"Then the world came crashing down around my ears. You know how some athletes talk about the game slowing down for them? Once the season started it seemed like I was was watching a horror movie on fast forward. Our running game disappeared (thanks Onterrio), and the pass protection totally broke down. It seemed like I was getting blitzed on every play. Then, when I did have time to throw, I couldn't seem to find anybody open. I felt like I was in a fog, and the more I tried to turn things around, the worst things got.

"After the Green Bay game, I thought things were finally getting back to normal. We put together that last play, game winning drive, and I was starting to feel like my old self. Super Bowl here we come! Then I got injured in the Panthers game and my season, and maybe my career was over.

"I've had a lot of time to think while I've been in Florida rehabilitating my knee. I want to take this opportunity to thank the Vikings for the way they've always treated me. From the moment I was drafted until I woke up in the recovery room and Mr. Fowler was there to offer his support, the Vikings organization has always been first class. I also want to thank the fans for their support, even when I let them down in clutch situations. I am humbled by the outpouring of love I have received since I was injured.

"I've done a lot of soul searching, and I want to apologize, not only for myself...but for all greedy athletes who take more than they give. I have rediscovered my love of the game, and for the people of Minnesota. With that in mind, I want to put my money where my mouth is. I'm giving back the bonus I received at the end of training camp, and I won't accept the money that is due in March. If the Vikings won't take it back, I'll donate it to charity.

"I'm working like crazy to get back in shape, but I don't want anything to be handed to me. That means that I welcome competing with Brad Johnson for the starting quarterback job. I was very impressed with the way he played after I went down with the injury. No matter what happens, I plan to try to learn from him and emulate his ability to make quick decisions and his coolness under fire.

"Finally, I want to put my teammates on notice. You are going to see a new Daunte Culpepper next season. Get ready to climb on my back for the greatest ride ever...the journey to the Super Bowl. I'm looking forward to the challenge so much that I would play for nothing....if the Player's Association would let me."

And then...the news conference was interrupted by a special report:

"A herd of flying pigs have just come in for a landing at Winter Park!" Film at 11:00.

*This column is a work of fiction and unfortunately does not express the real words, thoughts, or opinions of Daunte Culpepper. 


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